World of Warcraft fails to please (me) yet again

I was following online the last Blizzcon because there were rumors about stuff I was very interested about. It was all a flop, sadly.

I left World of Warcraft shortly after Cataclysm, and after being very excited about it, because my idea of an ideal virtual world is one that doesn’t fall into obsolescence but keeps getting updated and improved. Cataclysm was supposed to be just that: an overhaul of old content to make the whole package more seamless and up to date.

The result, though? Exactly the opposite. They made all content obsolete systemically. As I’ve written in the past, they completely broke the progression. They sped up the leveling in order to make players reach max level faster and enjoy the bleeding edge content, but in the process they utterly destroyed any sense of quest flow. You cannot even follow the shortest quest chain in a zone without outleveling it. You run a dungeon once, and you’ve already outleveled whole zones outside.

For someone who’s chasing the treadmill power creep and wants to just collect better loot, it’s all ideal. But for someone like me who’s in no rush to reach the top and just wants to enjoy and explore ALL the content at my own pace, reading all the little stories that the zones have been written around, then this new skin of the game is completely unplayable. Unless you accept to remove from the experience all loot and all challenge and doing just grey quests all the time. But I don’t. I want an experience that is well balanced, otherwise it’s simply not worth it.

The recent rumor was about a feature that I think was already implemented for the content of the latest expansion, and it’s basically the only way to salvage the experience I want without redoing the whole game: content that dynamically rescales to your level.

It’s a feature now common to most MMORPGs and even single player games use it. I’m actually contrary to it, conceptually (it’s much better to remove levels completely and design a game around a flatter skill system), but it’s the only practical way to save WoW, at least for me.

Just scale the content (quests, monsters, dungeons, possibly rewards) to a challenging default (or scale the character to the content), and I’d jump right in.

A great thing that Blizzard is doing with WoW is that you get every expansion for free by just waiting a couple of years after its release. So I could play all the content I missed in the meantime. A boatload of content. I’d love to just do that and pay Blizzard the monthly subscription. But I can’t because the progress is broken and all that content has been pushed to the side and forgotten.

And what we get? Vanilla WoW? Did players really ask for this? I really don’t understand what’s interesting about it. The content was objectively lower quality, and fond memories are probably based on a more complex overall situation that doesn’t simply depend on rolling back the game.

WoW phase one was great and praised everywhere because it removed the grind of old school shitty MMORPGs, like Everquest or Dark Age of Camelot, where you’d sit in the same spot for hours, grinding a spawn point. WoW replaced that awful boring grind with actual questing, so that you were always on the move, visiting and exploring and enjoying the game world fully. Making it an interesting place. Reading, if you wanted, the stories in there.

Then WoW phase two came and put the grind right back: just a race to level cap and farming the same dungeon or raid over and over and over and over. Waiting for the next exp pack for years only to burn right through the content in the matter of a weekend, and go back at farming dungeons yet again.

If you like doing that it’s all good. WoW is big enough to accommodate for different kinds of players. But it’s 2017, and I’m still waiting for something that most other games with far less resources have gotten right…

And I’ve now read they announced level scaling shortly after. But my point stands, design wise.

I also don’t think their proposed solution isn’t going to fix my problem. Instead of full level scaling they are only doing a partial zone scaling, and even modifying expansions to overlap with each other.

The core problem is still that gaining experience is way, WAY too fast compared to the quest and zone flow. And just scaling the single zone to a level range won’t fix absolutely anything about the core problem itself: you could stay in a zone a little longer, but whole zones would still fall behind and into obsolescence. You would have a choice about doing a quest chain or running a dungeon once, but properly enjoying the content at a leisure pace would still be impossible.

If it was me I’d create optionally a special custom type of character where the level curve is super slow and tuned specifically around the content, flag them in some special way so players feel somewhat rewarded to create and play these “masochistic” types, and that’s it.

It could be implemented in a day. It’s just a redesigned xp curve. Or you could just apply to every level range the original value that it had for every time a new piece of content dropped. That would be already okay.

level 1-60: apply the vanilla xp curve
level 60-70: apply The Burning Crusade xp curve
level 70-80: apply Wrath of the Lich King xp curve
level 80-85: apply Cataclysm xp curve
level 85-90: apply Pandaria xp curve
level 90-100: apply Draenor xp curve

Me happy, here’s my monthly subscription.

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I found this comment on Diablo-style loot. You know, Blizzard’s secret sauce.

Because it’s more exciting and you always have the feeling that the next item will be better. As opposed to getting a Longsword +3 and knowing that no matter how many enemies you kill, you will never find a better item because that’s the limit of the system.

Also, finding that one perfect (or near perfect) sword or armor feels more fun than finding just another sword you’ve seen 10 times already with exact same stats, name and appearance.

Makes sense, right?

Then I read this reply:

In these type of games, I usually feel the opposite, actually. When I get a decent weapon, I feel that the next 100 or so weapons I will find in the future will be crappy vendor trash. And when I actually find one that is better, it would be only a slight improvement that doesn’t excite me at all. Maybe this is why I don’t get the appeal of these games. I just don’t feel it.

I’ve always felt that more discrete weapons system in normal rpgs make each weapon much more meaningful than the ‘random gear everywhere’ system that loot based games use.

So I was thinking: is that games are like art, making us better.

Or is it that games just exploit our fallacies, the weaknesses.

Feels good man, until you don’t give it too much thought.


(Maybe these aren’t different players liking different things, but just different levels of player’s awareness? Here’s a little insight that probably everyone else forgot: during the World of Warcraft beta Blizzard changed the armor system. They made the numbers much bigger from a patch to the other, without changing the effectiveness. One dev also explained this in a forum post. I remember this because it always sounded like a sort of “fraud” and I’ve never accepted how that explanation could be acceptable. The logic was that in the old system it happened that players would keep a single piece of equipment for a few levels before finding an actual upgrade. You’d find loot, but it was just about the same of what you had equipped already. But by scaling up the numbers they obtained much more granularity in the system. That means that players would find upgrades, albeit smaller, a lot more frequently. You’d find a belt with 107 armor and replace it with one with 110. But the hidden truth behind this was that while before the loot numbers were set in a way that was pertinent to the formulas, in the new system instead those tiny upgrades literally MADE NO DIFFERENCE. They were lost in the formulas due to how approximations worked. Those upgrades are technically just mislead player perception. Manipulation.

The Blizzard guy who come up with this must have felt like a real trickster.)

World of Warcraft and its paid game designers

I suppose the quotes speak for themselves. I’m linking what I was writing on forums in 2014 (but also long before that, I just don’t care enough to dig deeper), and Blizzard, in 2016, finally get that kind of trickle-down insight too.…=1#post3517762…=1#post3517793…=1#post3517939…=1#post3612678

2014 forum discussion.

The faster leveling means that all the quest progression was completely broken. I couldn’t even advance on SINGLE quest line without outleveling it. And if I dared do a dungeon run I’d have to basically skip entirely to a different zone.

Racing through content may be good on paper, but it completely destroys the experience.

Fine, but then don’t say the game loses subs because it’s “old”. It loses subs because it systematically destroyed all the good things it had, without even introducing something new and appealing.

pre-Cataclysm WoW had an excellent balance with quest progression and leveling. Post-Cataclysm this balance was carelessly destroyed in the name of SPEED, NOW, MORE LEVELS. FAST FOODS.

But if they knew they were going to cut so much the leveling times then they should have rebalanced the quests accordingly.

Instead it seems the speed up was an afterthought and no one cared if they broke the perfectly crafted balance and one of the major features of the game. To me it feels like they handed a perfectly crafted thing to some new guy, and this new guy didn’t even remotely understand why the thing worked so well in the first place.

It’s not up to the player to balance this. If the game even lets you then it means there’s something fundamentally broken.

The point here is that pre-Cataclysm WoW was perfectly balanced, and, imo, the real BIG reason why it became hugely successful: WoW’s secret sauce was that the quest flow removed the feel of the grind you’d get in EVERY other MMO those days. But by speeding up so much the leveling process and disrupting all the quest chains and normal progression they simply destroyed their main feature. They TURNED BACK the game into a grind, with most players just burning through content without even looking at quest text or whatnot (or simply do dungeons and bypass all that).

WoTLK was the last good expansion and this is not my personal opinion. It’s just what pretty much everyone agrees with. Game design has taken a nosedive (and this is my opinion), WoW became just an affair for raids, and we know what happens when you specialize to hardcore players while leaving everything else behind. WoW’s leveling pace in now lightning fast, and the experience so bland and shallow, just because it’s all just at the service of the raiding game.

Blizzard 2016. Paid jobs.

Basically, low-level players now plough the game, killing everything easily in unsatisfying combat so they spend comparatively far more time simply running between objectives.

Some of this is down to changes made with the end-game in mind.

“There have been a lot of trickle-down effects from balances changes made to the max-level game. Things that used to be talents we now bake in as passives, we buff abilities, we move things that used to be high-level abilities down to make them available at level 10…”

we made levelling through the prior expansions a bit faster, and a bit faster, and a bit faster, because we didn’t want levelling to be such a barrier to entry.”

you shouldn’t be out-levelling zones before you’ve finished their story. You shouldn’t be doing one dungeon and finding that the zone you’re in is no longer relevant to you at all.”

the levelling-up experience through older zones at lower levels is “pretty broken right now. It’s not really very well tuned.” He added, “It’s not even about difficulty; it’s about pacing.”

But as the Warcraft development team focused on the live game of World of Warcraft, it definitely has shone a light on some deficiencies and areas where the game has been lacking recently, and that’s something we want to do something about.”

Good job? Round of applause?

A note on World of Warcraft

I just noticed on twitter a report that WoW’s subs dropped substantially again.

This follows a predictable high peak after the expansion release in November, but the news here is that in 5 months not only they completely lost all the subscriptions they gained, but they are also now at an all-time low since release, and of course there isn’t going to be an expansion to change things again anytime soon.

I don’t follow WoW, but I had a passing interest in the expansion and followed just enough to realize it was doing very bad design mistakes on almost all levels possible. In particular they went for a busywork style of play that required you to complete a few daily tasks. That’s fine, as a way to try to keep retention, but this also means they reduced the game to JUST a formula. That gets old very quickly.

So: the short-term good, long-term bad kind of design. WoW has gone downhill in game design since after Wrath of the Lich King. Cataclysm was a good idea, but all the good game design that the game had aplenty has been systematically siphoned out ever since.

This to say: WoW isn’t leaking subscriptions because it’s old, or even because of (mostly shitty, if you exclude FFXIV) competition, but because the WoW of today is even WORSE than the original WoW. Not only this game was unable to progress as every MMORPG is required to if it wants to continue to exist, but it went backwards.

The simple fact that the expansion brought back so many players, and none of them stayed, is the sign of how bad the game has become. People WANT to play and love WoW, but what’s left of it is an empty shell.

For the record, another MMORPG also working hard to go backwards is now Guild Wars 2. Good luck with that expansion, too.

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World of Warcraft Draenor expansion resets the game to vanilla 1.0

This is what I’ve been saying for a few years: WoW was an absolutely great game with almost flawless design, that then got progressively broken by game designers that upset the original fine balance.

Lots of changes with the new expansion:

What a pathetic display of mudlation applied to game design. It all amounts to “with each expansion and patch we broke our fine design, so now we are rolling everything back to how it was originally, so that we can start breaking stuff again.”

So Draenor = WoW v1.0

as healers and their allies acquire better and better gear, the percentage of a player’s health that any given heal restores increases significantly. As a result, healers are able to refill health bars so fast that we have to make damage more and more “bursty” in order to challenge them.

To that end, we’re buffing heals less than we’re increasing player health.


Over the years, we’ve added significantly more new spells and abilities to the game than we’ve removed. This has led to the complexity of the game increasing steadily over time, to the point we’re at now, where players feel like they need dozens of keybinds.

That means making some abilities restricted to certain specs that really need them instead of being class-wide, and outright removing some other abilities.


Another big takeaway from Mists of Pandaria is that there was simply too much crowd control (CC) in the game.

To solve that, we knew that we needed an across-the-board disarmament.

It took them quite a while to realize this. Now they basically invented “Infinity, the game design”: things start great, then slowly get broken by designers who enjoy fiddling with what works, until it all goes back to the starting point for a new loop.

First they hype stuff being added: people go YAY!
Then they announce they are removing the stuff they added previously: people go YAY!

The ultimate achievement: make what’s old feel as if it’s new. It already happened with Diablo 3: they design new broken systems so that everyone rejoices when they finally remove them.

And game designers are getting paid to remove what they just added. It’s like modern economy: the illusion of wealth by moving virtual money around.

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World of Warcraft is losing subscribers, why?

In my personal opinion WoW is still today the best MMO out there. Not because it’s really good, but because the genre didn’t make any step forward and decent efforts like Guild Wars 2 are only that, decent, and still can’t match the juggernaut. So if WoW loses subs it’s not primarily because of competition.

So why is it losing subscribers? The reason is explained in a number of old blogs I wrote years ago. The main cause in technical terms is: “mudflation”.

The problem, more concretely, is that in the last few years WoW’s development has focused mainly on catering to veteran players, especially the raid crowd, while every other aspect of the game was neglected or pushed back in the priorities. So what is happening is that WoW has become extremely unwelcoming for new players. It closed itself. It nourished its own playerbase, but closing itself to the new blood that is INDISPENSABLE to keep a virtual world alive.

When you cut that source of vitality the consequence is that the game-world starts to wither. And you notice this concretely by looking at the subscribers count and its downward, slow trend. It withers.

I canceled my subscription shortly after Cataclysm and up to that point I never canceled my account since day one.

The main reason why I canceled my subscription is that post-Cataclysm the quest balance was completely destroyed.

They made lots of changes to make leveling faster. The main reason being that most players have already gone through all the content multiple times, the level caps got higher and higher, and so they needed to make everything faster. The problem is that faster leveling means that all the quest progression was completely broken. I couldn’t even advance on SINGLE quest line without outleveling it. And if I dared do a dungeon run I’d have to basically skip entirely the zone I was questing in.

Racing through content may be good on paper, but it completely destroys the experience. Without even a little fun in the quests it meant that for me the game became utterly bland and more boring than ever. They redid all the zones, new quests and everything, but I couldn’t enjoy any of that because there was no way to actually go through the quests normally.

Ideally the leveling should be a natural consequence of the quest progress. It was one of the biggest accomplishment of WoW at release: you’d simply go through the quests available and your character would level up accordingly and being guided through the zones. Questing was the focus, leveling up was the natural consequence. And you didn’t feel any grind because the content led you. This, precisely, was WoW’s secret sauce: removing the grind (or the feel of the grind).

When things break in this system is either when you reach a place where the quests are suddenly way above your level, or when your character outpaces the quests and so everything becomes trivial in both reward and challenge.

My point is: pre-Cataclysm WoW had an excellent balance with quest progression and leveling. Post-Cataclysm this balance was carelessly destroyed in the name of SPEED, NOW, MORE LEVELS. FAST FOODS.

If they knew they were going to cut so much the leveling times then they should have rebalanced the quests accordingly, to preserve the balance. Speeding them up and adjusting the experience points you earn.

Instead it seems the speed up was an afterthought and no one cared if they broke the perfectly crafted balance and one of the major features of the game. To me it feels like they handed a perfectly crafted thing to some new guy, and this new guy didn’t even remotely understand why the thing worked so well in the first place.

At this point the best thing to do would be: restore the finely tuned balance there was before, offer level 90 characters for a smaller fee for those who are bored of leveling, and FLAG those characters with some icon of shame.

That way those who enjoy leveling can actually enjoy it the way it was originally designed, and those who don’t can bypass it entirely. I’d probably be still subscribed if that was the case.

But instead WoW has just become a raiding game, where every other system is secondary to raiding support (and character customization sacrificed for class balance). Now leveling up a character is just the grind one has to suffer in order to start the raiding game. The faster, the better.

You aren’t a raiding player? Then why again are you still subscribed?

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Tom Chilton realizes down the road what I was preaching for many years

My understanding is not perfect, especially when he starts to babble, but from halfway through till the end he really seems to realize some core problems that go against all he “designed” up to this point. Permeable barriers and all.


Enjoy the backpedaling, smart ass.

It looks from the video they are redoing water effects with this expansion. RotLK was shadows, this one water. We are in the future. Tech and design. So advanced. Think of all the progress in the last few years. Unbelievable.

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WoW reached its peak, will decline now. Smart people at GDC are cheating you.

1- Blizzard has no competition and they don’t need to try anymore to stay ahead. There isn’t any need to fight even on the last thousands of players. They win, everyone else lost. Game over.

The patches are getting slower and more insubstantial, filled with pages of convoluted class changes. It’s quite obvious that the there’s no creative push behind this and that they are only trying to please the current many subscribers, especially the ones still heavily invested in the game. There is no attempt to reach further.

It’s also quite obvious that resources are being moved. A while ago Blizzard was only working on WoW. Now they have WoW, Starcraft, Diablo and another MMO project. They were never able to do more than one thing at once and now the focus will start to shift. As always in this industry you only see the effect of what happens behind the scenes a few years later. It starts now, the effect will come later.

The lead designer, Jeff Kaplan, left WoW to move on the new project. We know only of the public figures but it is obvious that he is followed by many more that work in the back.

WoW is now in the (un)capable hands of Kalgan. Have fun.

2- Lum quoted various pieces from a conference (where industry people only go to feel proud, boast their cultivated shortsightedness, feel validated among equals, avoid challenges, avoid reality, shake hands, and whose game design relevance is a negative number) where Jeff Kaplan talks about quest design. Jeff Kaplan is in my “good guys book” and I’m not entirely sure if he was mocking the audience thinking that they would only grasp the superficial level anyway, and so talk in a language they could understand.

It’s not the specific of what he says to be wrong, it’s the overall sense. I only read Lum quotes but those ideas were considered good ideas “on paper” that revealed to be poor in practice. Bottom line: these ideas should be avoided.

That’s a wrong conclusion. Wrong interpretation. It’s about trying to understand aspects of the game with only one rigid model. That’s the inner flaw. It’s not in the quest ideas, it’s in the approach.

Everyone of those examples isn’t just a “good idea on paper”. Gone bad in practice. Why? Because it obviously was a bad idea even in paper? Nope. It was a possibly good idea with an inappropriate execution.

That’s the point: good ideas with bad execution. All of them.

Take the example of the quest in Stranglethorn. The idea is cool. It is also not an obligatory quest, so if you don’t like the added layers you can always skip it. Where’s the big flaw of that quest? Not in the concept. It’s in the limits of the inventory. So. You may solve the problem by erasing the quest entirely. Or you may fix the one problem. In this case you could create a container object that takes 1 slot in the inventory and that can contain all the parts that can be then taken and sold in the auction, traded or whatever.

“For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”

That’s right. That’s why you solve the one problem, as the cool concept behind the quest wasn’t to consume all those spaces, but to create an economy and add a new layer.

Now this is an example, but every one else following is the seed of the same consideration: inappropriate quest concepts because they don’t fit the standard framework. Not BAD quest concepts. Just quest concepts that step out of the limited tools given.

Problem is the framework, not the material. The problem is execution, not quest concepts. Given that implementation, the quest didn’t work. But this doesn’t make it an universally bad quest that wouldn’t or can’t work in other cases.

The “quest chains” aren’t bad because of what they are. They are bad because the quest UI is standardized and doesn’t support them properly (in fact the only way to see even a short chain quest is to use MODs like Wowhead). It’s again a flaw in the framework. You are bringing creative ideas to a framework that doesn’t support them. Either you dump all creative quest concepts, or you invest in programmers that expand the framework to support new quest types properly. But, again, the rigidness of a framework is the real true cause of a good or bad idea applied to it. Its context.

So enjoy your GDC. Either I’m overestimating Kaplan, or he was there just to deceive you with apparent sincerity. He keeps the good lessons (solutions) for himself.

Ubiq on this as well. That would lead to think that he doesn’t get it either, but look further, deeper. That’s the hidden war he’s doing to Bioware. His purpose is there. Nowadays when devs have an hard time to impose themselves internally, they rant externally.

Casual players are slackers

A comment on Tobold’s blog about the higher and higher requirements to be able to join a group:

It really is about the risk on the time invested. In the second week of January, or so, it seems the majority caught up with the achievers, and all of a sudden there was a severe drop in the competency and preparedness of the average PuG’er. I started leaving a lot of heroic groups five minutes in when I’d end up doing over 40% of the damage or our “tank” had 18k health. The situation has degraded with PuG raids. I’ve seen a Naxx10 fail because six of the DPS were doing less than 1500dps.

To me, it’s an issue of respect. I invested time and effort into ensuring that I am competent and well-equipped enough not to hinder the success of the run. I expect the same in return from other players. DPS should significantly outperform tanks in their role. Tanks should have at least 5k more health than I do and be able to hold AoE threat. Healers in heroics should have enough spellpower to spare a heal on someone other than the tank, and enough awareness to see when they’re needed.

Slackers who seem to think attendance qualifies entitlement show disrespect, and are undeserving of my time and effort.

I am disgusted.

Not at the reaction of this player (sample of a general trend) but of the fact that a massive game encourages and promotes this type of interaction.

It’s also counterproductive, as the more requirements rise higher, the harder for new people to reach that level. A social fracture.

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